Newly-discovered Mayan calendar in Guatemala proves (again) the world won't end in 2012

William Saturno, a Boston University archeologist, excavates a mural in a house in Xultun. Photo: Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic

An archaeological expedition in the northeastern lowlands of Guatemala yields an amazing discovery: the "9th-century workplace of a city scribe, an unusual dwelling adorned with magnificent pictures of the king and other royals and the oldest known Maya calendar."

From Thomas Maugh's report in the Los Angeles Times, on the dig in the ruins of Xultun led by William Saturno of Boston University:

This year has been particularly controversial among some cultists because of the belief that the Maya calendar predicts a major cataclysm — perhaps the end of the world — on Dec. 21, 2012. Archaeologists know that is not true, but the new find, written on the plaster equivalent of a modern scientist's whiteboard, strongly reinforces the idea that the Maya calendar projects thousands of years into the future.

To paraphrase modern-day Maya priests I've spoken with on past travels in rural Guatemala: "Well, duh."

The findings were first reported Thursday in the journal Science. The full text of the report requires paid subscription, but a recent Science podcast covers the news, and is available here (PDF transcript or MP3 for audio).

A related story at USA Today by Dan Vergano.

The astronomical calendar was unearthed from a filled-in scribe's room. While about 7 million Maya people still live in Central America today, the "Classic" Maya civilization of pyramid temples had collapsed there by about 900 A.D., leaving only a few birch-bark books dating to perhaps the 14th century as records of their astronomy, until now.

"The numbers we found indicate an obsession with time and cycles of time, some of them very large," Saturno says. "Maya scribes most likely transcribed the numbers on the wall in this room into (books) just like the ones later seen by conquistadors."

Explorers first reported the site of Xultun, once a large Maya center, in 1915. But it was only two years ago that National Geographic Society-funded archaeologists noted a small residential room partly exposed by looters. The room's walls proved to hold murals and small, delicate hieroglyphs inscribed in rows between paintings of scribes and rulers that not only corresponded to a 260 day ceremonial calendar and 365-day year, but the 584-day sky track of Venus and 780-day one of Mars.

And at the Boston Globe, Carolyn Johnson has a report here:

Scholars who study the Maya said the well-preserved room provides insights into the people’s lives beyond those drawn from the more lasting stone monuments and artifacts that archeologists often depend on to reconstruct ancient civilizations. It’s almost as if the researchers can peer over the shoulders of the scribes who were writing and thinking there. The BU-led team reported sections of the wall had been plastered over to make space for new text.

“For me what’s really amazing is people are erasing and changing it and adapting it,” said Charles Golden, associate professor of anthroplogy at Brandeis University, who was not involved in the research. “You get these works in progress that really humanizes this, it kind of demystifies it.”

Photo: Tyrone Turner © 2012 National Geographic. Zoomable "Gigapan" here.


  1. Just because the Mayans didn’t believe that the world will end in 2012 doesn’t “prove” that it won’t! We could still all die in a completely coincidental cataclysm.

      1. yeah they cut down all their trees dumbasses.  Why no rainfall? Solutions? Well IDK rip out more beating hearts.

        1. Nowadays we deal with rapidly depleting resources by ritualistically staging drone attacks in distant countries. There’s still a lot of blood, but at least it’s not spilled all over our government buildings. (Not literally, anyway.)

    1. More troubling, that headline implies that this new calendar was refuting a previous “proof” that the world would end. Definitely on my short list of words writers should (almost) never use, unless they’re writing about alcohol.

    2. My first thought exactly. It seems they really did have supernatural predictive abilities. Western science has proved it.

  2. This story and the one about the P-40 found in the Egyptian desert have got to be my 2 fav. stories of the day. Just fascinating thinking of what else might be out there, unseen, forgotten, just waiting for fresh eyes to happen across it.

  3. Well, there’s a load off my mind.

    Of course, I don’t trust some ignorant Mayans for my end-of-the-world predictions. I go with Harold Camping, who has more experience predicting the apocalypse than anyone.

  4. The end Mayan calander really only demonstrated that they didn’t really feel the need to plan things out that far ahead.

  5. You know what would really make my day? If just one major news outlet could manage to come up with a non-cringeworthy headline related to the 2012 phenomenon.

    (Not that this is necessarily possible even in theory.)

  6. You know, as long as the end of the world is being brought up again, I bet the reason God never told us that date is because he knew people would start hanging around in anticipation of it instead of doing more productive things.  Chapter five of 1 Thessalonians even says that God plans to return like a thief in the night, so by setting a date for the end of the world, all you’re really doing is ensuring that God will not return on that day in particular.  We should all instead focus on moving forward with science and love lest the present global warming crisis drives us to extinction before God or even the ancient Mayans get the chance.

    1. Or is that just a plan to make us believe that any date is going to be the wrong one, so that we don’t suspect the end of the world and keep on working so that when it actually happens we’re taken by surprise so that…. err… something…

    2. LOL true,true, true, and that about Global warming is so true but i had to laugh at what you wrote because its so true and funny! The funny thing about this new calender stuff is… i gotta tell the media great timing on the discoveries of such a calender that some how exists in the nick of time! Wow right :) 

  7. WE ARE ALL DOOMED!   My wall calendar only goes to December 31st, 2012 and then the world will end.  Oh wait, I will just go and buy a new 2013 calendar.  That was close!

  8. First James Cameron discovers the bottom of the ocean – now George Clooney refutes Armageddon!  And while hosting the bighuge Obama fundraiser!  Is there anything Hollywoodites *can’t* do??

  9. Actual quote from a hardcore herbologist I know, leafing through a National Geographic magazine:  “Your hands can channel energies, if you do it correctly.  The Mayan reliefs with the kings, brujos and slaves, have you seen the way the brujos use and point their fingers?  That’s how they fucked with you”.

    Then you notice, yeah, the fingers are really weird. The fingers ain’t cool.

    1. Then he went on about a Mayan rapture:

      Village by village, the benevolent brujos trained the population for lucid dreaming in very specific ways, to observe and memorize every detail about the village they lived in, first awake then while dreaming.

      Then one night, the whole village was summoned to stand at a pre-appointed spot at a certain hour, while dreaming, then to fall backwards.
      The benevolent brujos were waiting there, to grab the whole village by the back of ONE neck and yank it to another dimension.

      Say what you will, it’s an amazing, beautiful fucking story.
      And you’ve never heard it before.

  10. My conjecture why the calendar ended when it did was that they ran out of space, or the chiseler’s arm developed carpal tunnel syndrome, or their attention span waned, or they decided wtf nobody’s going to be around that long anyway. 

  11. They built some cool shit but that doesn’t make them qualified to predict the end of the world.

  12.  Exactly. Ask a Mayan “Does the world end in 2012?” “Nah, that’s just the year we have to write a new calendar.”

  13. I still say, if we could look back in time to when the infamous ‘2012’ Mayan calendar was just being completed, the stone-mason would step back and say “Well, gee, THAT should last them.”

  14. How awesome could´ve been the Mayan empire that even destroyed and tried to shut down by the spaniards it is of importance today

  15. You know what’s even scarier? According to the calendar on my wall the world will end on Dec 31. Every. Single. Year. Talk about being alarmist!

  16. The archaeology is very cool. The entire “ancient collapsed culture predicts end of world in 2012” story….very yawn. Too bad one had to be linked to the other in any way.

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